Marvel Studios’ mystery movies: what could they be?

Marvel Studios has announced three movies without titles for 2020. We did some digging to predict what they might be…

Marvel Studios has made a big announcement. As well as adding Ant-Man And The Wasp (a sequel to the Paul Rudd-starring shrinking superhero movie) to their 2018 slate, and reshuffling the dates of two other Phase 3 movies (Black Panther and Captain Marvel), they also called dibs on three release dates in 2020, without revealing what these movies would be.

This trio of unnamed projects brings Marvel’s slate of upcoming movies to a gargantuan 14 films. This is the order in which they will arrive on American screens:

  • May 2016: Captain America Civil War
  • November 2016: Doctor Strange
  • May 2017: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
  • July 2017: Spider-Man
  • November 2017: Thor: Ragnarok
  • February 2018: Black Panther
  • May 2018: Avengers: Infinity War Part I
  • July 2018: Ant-Man And The Wasp
  • March 2019: Captain Marvel
  • May 2019: Avengers: Infinity War Part II
  • July 2019: Inhumans
  • May 2020: First mystery movie
  • July 2020: Second mystery movie
  • November 2020: Third mystery movie

The announcement itself was entitled ‘Marvel Studios Phase 3 Update,’ which has led us to believe that these three films are Phase 3 projects, not the first three instalments of Phase 4. We could be wrong there, but nothing in the Marvel blurb mentioned Phase 4 at all.

Perhaps these three films could do for Phase 3 what Ant-Man did for Phase 2, acting as codas to the epic alien-infested action of Infinity War and Inhumans. Again, though, everything in this article is just our speculation, so please don’t throw anything at us if we’re wrong.

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So, with that elongated intro/disclaimer out of the way, we put all our spectrometers on the roof and tried our best to predict what these films could be. Here’s what we came up with…

N.B. All dates listed in this article are the American release dates. They give us a better idea of Marvel’s tactical thinking, especially seeing as we don’t know all of the UK dates for Phase 3 yet.

1st May 2020

Historically, early May has almost always seen a sizeable success for Marvel. This is when the summer blockbuster season really gets going nowadays, and Marvel tends to put a sure thing in this slot. 

In Phase 1, the original Iron Man was released on 2nd May 2008. Iron Man 2 – cashing in on the whopping popularity of Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark – came two years later on 7th May 2010. The year after that, Marvel pushed Thor in a big way by giving it a release date of 6th May 2011. The next year, The Avengers got the May slot. That one came out on 4th May 2012, to be precise.

Almost a year to the day since The Avengers opened, Marvel launched Phase 2 by releasing Iron Man 3 on 3rd May 2013. The only other Phase 2 film to get a May release date was Avengers: Age Of Ultron, which landed on 1st May 2015. Tellingly, Thor lost his May slot, and The Dark World was instead pushed as a winter blockbuster with an 8th November 2013 release date. More on that later.

Sticking with early May, though, Marvel’s announced films for Phase 3 tell us that they’re still very much lumping their biggest films into this slot.

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Captain America: Civil War – benefiting from a Robert Downey Jnr appearance and the hefty success of The Winter Soldier – has landed a 6th May 2016 release date. Because Guardians Of The Galaxy proved to be a huge hit, its sequel – Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 – will also get a May release date. It’ll come out on May 5th 2017. The two Infinity War films will arrive on 4th May 2018 and 3rd May 2019.

What does all this tell us, then? Well, essentially, it’s clear that Marvel doesn’t mess around with its May release dates. Thor – after his first movie didn’t hit as largely as Iron Man or Iron Man 2 – lost his May slot. A film with ‘Captain America’ in the title has only managed to get a May release date by recruiting Iron Man’s leading man. Put simply – this movie will be a big one. 

We’d expect this film to be a sequel to a property that Marvel is already very confident about. We’ll be looking at something with the pulling power of Iron Man, The Avengers or the Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Robert Downey Jnr’s contract only lasts until Infinity War, and Phase 3 already has two Avengers movies (three if you count Civil War). So, one of those three options looks more likely than the others…

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Our best guess: Seeing as all its stars are believed to be on three picture deals, and this date comes two years after Vol. 2, my prediction is Guardians Of The Galaxy 3. Either that or Post-Reboot-Spider-Man 2, but that would rely on the first one hitting big, which isn’t an iron-clad sure thing at this stage.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a voice is whispering “Infinity War Part III – just imagine that!”, but even Marvel wouldn’t be that ballsy… surely?

10th July 2020

The second mystery Marvel movie is set to premiere on 10th July 2020. This kind of slot is often reserved for movies that Marvel Studios are trying to peddle in a slightly different way, not necessarily as a bombastic early-summer smash hit the size of an Iron Man or Avengers movie. All Marvel’s movies are successful, but hopefully you get what I mean.

For example, the only movie with a July release date in Phase 1 was Captain America: The First Avenger, which came out on 22nd July 2011. Here’s a character that may not have had as much global awareness in the lead up to his MCU debut. It was also Marvel’s first – and so far, only – period film. Rather than pushing this one out right at the start of the summer, then, Marvel snuck it in a little later.

Phase 2, again, only had one July movie. Once more, this was for a character with slightly less of a global brand name than the rest of the Marvel stable – Ant-Man. The Ant-Man movie was released in the USA on 17th July 2015, banking on a less busy cinematic landscape and some residual hype from Age Of Ultron that was still kicking around.

Continuing this theme, when Marvel initially announced Phase 3, they earmarked just one July release date for another of their projects that would have less name recognition among casual cinemagoers – Captain Marvel (which was originally pencilled in for July 2018).

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Since then, there’s been two significant additions to the Phase 3 plan. Firstly, Sony agreed to share Spider-Man’s cinematic rights with Marvel. Resultantly, they announced a Civil War debut for Tom Holland’s Spidey and a standalone movie with a 28th July 2017 release date. Since The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which had a 2nd May 2014 release date) struggled to do big enough business for Sony’s taste, the idea to release the next Spidey movie in July could be seen as a tactical ploy to position the wall-crawler further away from major box office competition.

This caused a domino effect in Marvel’s release schedule, which saw Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Inhumans move dates. Black Panther moved to a 6th July 2018 slot, Captain Marvel was nudged into November, and Inhumans has been delayed until 12th July 2019.

And, last week, Marvel announced a sequel for Ant-Man, a movie that has so far made respectable money by Marvel standards, but nowhere near Avengers numbers. As a result, the Ant-Man series hasn’t been bumped up to May, instead it’ll get another July release – it took Black Panther’s 6th July 2018 slot, with the Chadwick Boseman-starring picture shifting into a February position.

So, what does this all mean? Well, you’ll notice that the kind of movies that get considered for July slots – Captain America: The First Avenger, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Inhumans, the Spidey reboot – are not always the biggest hitters in Marvel’s baseball team of brand names. These are either lesser-known superheroes (at least to the casual cinema goer) who haven’t got the movie treatment before, or – in Ant-Man 2 and Spider-Man’s case – didn’t do record breaking numbers the last time around.

That being said, all of these films could well become successes. It’s just a case of Marvel playing a tactical game and launching a film into cinemas at the best possible time. In May of their respective years, the competition could squash any of these films, which is why Marvel puts them in July. More room to breath, and all that. 

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So, we’re looking for a superhero who either hasn’t got a movie before, or who might not have done big business last time we saw them on the big screen.

Our best guess: As a big fan of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner performances, I really want this one to turn out to be a standalone Hulk movie. 

Ed Norton’s The Incredible Hulk movie remains the lowest-ranking Marvel movie at the global box office, but the increased popularity of the big green rage monster – thanks to the Avengers films – could yet see Ruffalo get a standalone picture, if Marvel and Universal can work out a deal over distribution. Should that happen, a July slot, without the pressures of a May release, could be a perfect fit. 

Failing that, perhaps 10th July 2020 could be the release date for Black Panther 2 or Doctor Strange 2. After all, this date will come around more than two years after either of their debut films. That would depend on their first movies’ success, though – Marvel doesn’t normally announce sequel dates before the original has come out. But hey, people change, and so can giant multi-billion corporations.

6th November 2020

(Yes, I am running out of ideas for images)

The final mystery date is 6th November 2020. This one’s intriguing because Marvel doesn’t do November dates all that often. In Phase 1, Marvel didn’t have any November releases, for example. Everything came out in May, June or July. 

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This changed with Phase 2, though, when Marvel plonked Thor: The Dark World in an 8th November 2013 slot. This distance from the superhero cinematic competition – coupled with the increased love for Loki and Thor garnered by The Avengers, and probably some other factors too – meant that The Dark World out-grossed Thor by some distance.

Clearly pleased with this performance, Marvel has put together a Phase 3 plan that involves more November dates than ever. 4th November 2016 is the release date for Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, while Thor: Ragnarok will see the God of Thunder return for another winter appearance, on 3rd November 2017.

At one stage (before Ant-Man And The Wasp shook up the schedule), Captain Marvel was also pegged for a November premiere. That movie would have landed on 2nd November 2018, if it wasn’t for that meddling Ant-Man sequel. To avoid the films arriving too close to one another, Captain Marvel has since been pushed back until March 2019. Similarly, Black Panther was going to be a November 2017 movie at one stage, but has now been moved (twice!) and will turn up in February 2018 instead. 

And that’s it. That’s all the November dates Marvel has ever had/planned. You could describe it as a bit of a niche month, but that could be seen as a disservice to Thor, who is hardly an unknown entity on the big screen at present. Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel all represent lesser-known properties getting a go at a debut movie, though.

So what can we glean from this mystery release date? Well, not a huge amount, beyond the obvious fact that this one won’t be an Avengers, Iron Man or Guardians movie.

Our best guess: In all honesty, it’s hard to call. There’s a chance that Marvel could have earmarked this date for a Black Panther follow-up or another Thor sequel. But, again, it’s not traditionally their style to plan in a sequel before checking that the previous film has actually gone down well. Maybe that’s why these dates don’t have names attached yet. Perhaps Marvel are just covering their release date bases and will actually decide which films to put in which slots based on how their next few films go.

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Equally, they could have something utterly unpredictable in the planning stages already. Like a debut outing for a younger (Squirrel Girl?), lesser-known (She-Hulk?!) or weirder (Howard The Duck?!?!) property. Or, y’know, maybe, if they wanted, they could finally make a Black Widow movie… 

As and when Marvel disprove all our theories, we’ll let you know.